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More workers poisoned by supplier for Apple, Nokia

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The Taiwanese company that provides displays and electronic components for Apple, Nokia, and others has admitted that more employees than previously reported have been poisoned by an industrial chemical used in its manufacturing facilities.

According to a report Thursday by Global Post, a Wintek spokesman admitted that 62 workers in the company's Suzhou plant, located in the Jiangsu province of mainland China, had been sickened by exposure to n-hexane last summer - more than the 47 to 49 that various news sources had previously reported.

The Wintek spokesman also said that of the workers poisoned by n-hexane, 41 remain hospitalized.

The company claims that it has discontinued use of the toxic chemical, used for cleaning displays, which can cause muscular degeneration and vision problems when workers are exposed to it in high concentration. Symptoms can arise well after exposure.

Wintek has denied that one worker recently died from n-hexane poisoning, instead attributing that death to a heart attack.

Last month China Daily reported that approximately 2,000 of the 10,000 workers at the Suzhou plant went on strike to protest both the use of toxic chemicals in the facility and the suspension of promised bonuses - a strike marred by violence.

Multiple news outlets - including China Daily - have reported that the Suzhou plant makes the displays for Apple's soon-to-be-released iPad. Keeping with its culture of secrecy, Apple will neither confirm nor deny that relationship. Wintek is keeping mum about its relationship with Apple as well.

Cupertino did recently release a "Supplier Responsibility" report (PDF), but although it details audit results and compliance with Apple's stated health and safety requirements, it contains no supplier-specific information.

Nokia, on the other hand, issued a statement saying: "We became aware of the allegations regarding the use of n-hexane in July 2009 and started our investigation immediately." It denied that the chemical was used on production lines supplying displays for their products.

It's been a bad week for Wintek, which on Monday reported sales of $850m in 2009, which resulted in a net loss of $80m. It has also been a bad week for those 41 employees who remain hospitalized. ®

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